President-elect Barack Obama gave a wide-ranging interview to the Chicago Tribune , offering his hometown daily a scoop that forced other journalists to choose which angle to highlight in their reports on it. Reuters chose to lead with his comment that the most pressing problem right now was to "stabilize the patient" and save the U.S. economy from losing millions of jobs. I agree this is the key message he sent in this interview and deserved to take top billing. So I was surprised to see how many news organisations went with a different angle. (Photo: Obama in Chicago, 9 Dec 2008/Jeff Haynes)
"Obama to take the oath of office using his middle name" ... "At inauguration, it will be Barack Hussein Obama: interview" ... "I, Barack Hussein Obama" -- several news organisations led off with the fact that Obama would be sworn in under his full name. What did they expect? That he would kowtow to his campaign critics who pointedly called him Barack Hussein Obama but didn't have the courage to say what they were hinting at, i.e. that this self-confessed Christian was a "covert Muslim" or "Muslim apostate" and therefore unreliable?
Given the context of the campaign, the fact that Obama has not been cowed is interesting. We mentioned it in the third paragraph, the Chicago Tribune in the second. But let's ask if making this the lead, putting it at the top of the whole story, gives the whispering campaign against him much more importance than it is due?
It would have been more of a story if Obama had decided he could not be sworn in under the full name he got from his father and without the middle name from his grandfather. Americans love to talk about their roots, so seeing him run away from his own heritage would have been something to write about. Should we be surprised that he has not done that and wants to be taken as he is?
There was a genuine Muslim angle in the interview -- that Obama plans to reach out to the Islamic world with a speech in a capital of a Muslim country. His aides had already indicated this was on the cards, but he confirmed it first to the Trib so they led with that. Our veteran Washington correspondent Steve Holland made that the second paragraph in his story, quoting him as saying he wanted to "reboot America's image around the world and also in the Muslim world in particular." In both cases, they reported this angle before mentioning Obama's middle name.